An Israeli offer to allow Palestinians to fly to and from Ramon Airport in Southern Israel has failed to take off after the plans were scuppered on the eve of the first flight to Turkey.
Last month, Israel offered to give Palestinians based in the West Bank greater freedom to travel internationally as part of an olive branch deal brokered by U.S. President Joe Biden during his visit to the region.
Without access to the isolated Ramon Airport which is located in the Negev desert close to the Red Sea resort town of Eilat, West Bank Palestinians who need to travel internationally must queue at the Allenby land crossing into neighbouring Jordan before travelling up to Amman.
Resources at the Allenby Crossing are stretched thin and the queues to get into Jordan from the Israeli side can stretch on for hours. In recent weeks, Palestinians have been stranded on the Jordanian side because of overcrowding and limited opening hours.
Two Turkish airlines have signed up to operate flights from Ramon specifically for Palestinians but the Israeli Airports Authority said on Sunday that those plans had now been put on hold.
The first flight was due to depart this week but has now been delayed indefinitely.
The Palestinian Authority had rejected Israel’s offer of using Ramon Airport because it allegedly reinforced “the policy of apartheid against the Palestinians,” the PA said last month.
Ramon Airport opened in January 2019 and took over as Eilat’s primary airport. Ramon is now Israel’s second busiest airport but the PA claims Israeli officials are only now allowing it to be used by Palestinians because they have failed to make a success of the airport.
“Israel failed to turn the Ramon Airport into an international terminal. Now the Israelis are offering us something that didn’t work for them,” a PA official was quoted as saying.
“This reminds me of the coronavirus vaccines which Israel offered us because the expiration dates were nearing.”
Some Palestinians are not happy with the PA’s stance, saying the decision to reject the use of Ramon only hurts normal Palestinians. Senior Palestinian officials and PA members are given special permits to use Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, but Israel’s number one airport remains strictly off limits to the vast majority of normal Palestinians.
If the flights do eventually go ahead, Palestinians will need to obtain a permit to cross into Israel. Once across the border, Palestinian passengers will be searched at a special center in Hebron before being transported on Israeli coaches on a three-hour road journey to Ramon Airport.
Check-in luggage will be reportedly forbidden.
The Israeli Airports Authority did not say why the plans had been put on hold on Sunday.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.